The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) of the United Kingdom, led respectively by Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Md. Shahidul Haque and FCO Permanent Under Secretary Sir Simon McDonald, convened the first Bangladesh-United Kingdom Strategic Dialogue on 28 March 2017, in Dhaka. Earlier, both signed a Memorandum of Understanding setting out their intention to conduct the Dialogue on an annual basis in order to strengthen their bilateral cooperation in the pursuit of common goals.
The Strategic Dialogue involved a fruitful exchange of views on political and bilateral issues, economic and development cooperation, security and defence cooperation, and exchanges on current global issues. The following specific points were noted or agreed upon:
1. Political & Bilateral Issues
1.1 Celebrating the 45th anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations, Bangladesh and the UK expressed satisfaction at the excellent bilateral relations between the two friendly countries. Bangladesh expressed deep gratitude to the people and the Government of the UK for their unwavering support during and after its Liberation War in 1971. Both sides recognized the scope for further deepening and widening of the relationship. They agreed to work together to take the relationship to a higher level through enhanced substantive engagements. In that context they underscored the importance of exchange of visits and interactions at the highest political level.
1.2 The UK briefed on political developments domestically and in Europe, including its decision to leave the European Union. The UK assured that it would remain outward looking, committed to its global responsibilities, including as a champion for free trade, and would seek to renew and strengthen its relations with long-standing friends like Bangladesh.
1.3 Bangladesh briefed on its engagement in the region, including with India and China, and briefed on its work through BIMSTEC and with neighbouring countries to improve connectivity and infrastructure links in the region. It highlighted the potential that the Blue Economy offered and welcomed UK expertise and collaboration in this regard.
1.4 The UK highlighted the valuable contribution that the large British-Bangladeshi community has made to British society and economy. Both Bangladesh and the UK agreed that the community formed an important link between the two countries, including in fostering business and trade ties, warmly noted in this regard the election of three members of the community to the British Parliament and the appointment of one of those MPs as the
UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Bangladesh, and agreed that the community’s further success will be in the interests of both countries.
1.5 The UK welcomed Bangladesh’s commitment to take back its citizens who no longer have the right to remain in the UK. Bangladesh assured to take practical steps to expedite the return of those individuals.
1.6 Bangladesh stressed the importance of an efficient decision making process for visa applications for its nationals. The UK explained that all visa decisions are taken by UK staff and that decision-making on settlement visas for Bangladesh nationals is being moved from India to the UK. The UK restated its commitment to maintain a high quality service for Bangladeshi nationals at the Visa Applications Centres in Dhaka and Sylhet. In this regard the UK agreed to expand the criteria for the three-to-five day priority visa services for Bangladeshi applicants from June 2017.
2. Economic & Development Cooperation
2.1 The UK congratulated Bangladesh on the impressive socio-economic development achieved in recent years, including in the empowerment of women. Both sides recognised the importance of duty-free quota-free market access for Bangladesh’s socio-economic development.
2.2. The UK, as the second largest foreign investor in Bangladesh, welcomed Bangladesh’s goal to improve its Investment Climate and Bangladesh’s ranking on the Global Ease of Doing Business index. The UK also welcomed the formation of the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) as the government’s principal investment promotion and facilitation agency. Both countries agreed to work together on efforts to encourage more Foreign Direct Investment, ensure appropriate regulations and practices, speed up processes and tackle issues over contract enforcement.
2.3 The UK stressed that it remained committed to assisting Bangladesh’s economic and social development, noting that it was largest bilateral development partner of Bangladesh. It gave an update on UKAid plans/investments up to 2020 and how these aligned with the Government of Bangladesh’s priorities. Both sides reiterated their commitment to improved aid effectiveness, effective development partnerships and enhanced transparency and accountability of foreign assistance.
2.4 Both countries agreed to begin a dialogue on the future shape of their development partnership as Bangladesh moved towards and achieved middle income status. Bangladesh welcomed UK support in areas such as knowledge, innovation and skill development, enhanced co-operation between British and Bangladeshi universities, and the harnessing of the resources of the Blue Economy.
2.5 Both countries noted that the Sustainable Development Goals represented a step change in the way that the global community tackles the global challenges of poverty and disease, mass migration, insecurity, climate change, inequality, and of maintaining peace, justice, strong institutions and gender equality. Both stressed their commitment to implementing the Goals both internationally and domestically and undertook to explore ways of working more closely together to achieve the implementation of the 2030 SDG Agenda. Both countries recognised the role that civil society can play in promoting stability and economic prosperity.
2.6 Both countries highlighted the strength of educational and skills co-operation, welcoming the continued support to the Ministry of Education on systemic reform of the primary, secondary and skills education systems and more broadly on English throughout the school education system and to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs on the strategic positioning of public libraries in enabling a knowledge and skills based economy through greater access to information. It was agreed that the current Memorandum of Understanding concerning the activities of the British Council in Bangladesh should be revisited. Bangladesh requested additional annual Commonwealth, Chevening and other scholarships for its students to the UK. The UK side agreed to consider the request.
2.7 Both sides underlined the importance of safe, regular and orderly migration. In this context Bangladesh requested the UK to work together on future modalities for overseas employment of skilled manpower from Bangladesh.
3. Security & Defence Cooperation
3.1 Bangladesh and the UK condemned the recent terrorist acts in both countries and expressed sympathy for the victims. Bangladesh and the UK recognised that tackling international terrorist groups including Daesh, Al Qaida and other global, regional and local terrorists outfits, including neo-JMB and ABT, as well as countering terrorism and violent extremism, including money laundering and terrorism financing, constituted a challenge that must be addressed through global collaboration. Both sides emphasised that addressing the root causes of terrorism, respect for the rule of law and international human rights commitments underpinned any successful counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism strategy.
3.2 The UK appreciated the progress made in upgrading the security at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Dhaka. The UK and Bangladesh agreed that the UK Department for Transport will continue to work closely with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism and the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh to help bring about sustainable improvements in security at the airport, and the UK reaffirmed its willingness to provide necessary assistance in this regard. Both countries agreed to carry out a Joint Assessment of the airport to identify the remaining improvements needed and to draw up a mutually agreed time-bound action plan to implement them. Once these improvements are in place the UK agreed to take the necessary steps for the resumption of cargo on direct UK-bound flights from Dhaka.
3.3 Bangladesh’s important role as one of the largest contributors of military and police to UN Peacekeeping Operations was appreciated by the UK. Both countries noted their co- hosting of the UN Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial in London in September 2016 and undertook to continue to work together to further strengthen the UN’s capability to support global stability and conflict resolution.
3.4 Both the countries welcomed existing military-to-military ties and agreed on enhanced cooperation in the fields of training and capacity building for professional development of their armed forces.
3.5 In support of PM May’s goal to cultivate a new, global and co-ordinated approach to eliminate human trafficking and modern forms of slavery and defend the freedom of men, women and children who are exploited for profit, both countries agreed to explore potential ways of working together in the UN to achieve this outcome.
4. Current Global Issues
4.1 The United Kingdom and Bangladesh emphasised their shared commitment to democratic values, international peace and security, and national and international prosperity. Both sides reiterated the need for the rules-based international system, including for trade, to adapt and renew itself in light of the transformational changes that have taken place over the last 70 years.
4.2 The UK appreciated the significant burden that Bangladesh has been bearing in hosting 400,000 Muslims from Rakhine State who have fled human rights abuses in Myanmar/Burma. Bangladesh expressed appreciation for the humanitarian assistance being provided by the British Government in this regard. Both sides took note of the reports of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (3 February 2017), the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (1 March 2017) as well as the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State: Interim Report and Recommendations (March 2017) and in this regard emphasized the importance of finding a permanent solution to the problem in Myanmar/Burma and agreed to work together to this end.
4.3 Both countries stressed the shared Commonwealth values of good governance, sustainable growth, and inclusive social and economic development. The UK welcomed Bangladesh’s active current role as chair of both the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Both countries agreed to collaborate closely to develop parliamentary links. Bangladesh and the UK looked forward to the next Commonwealth Summit in London in April 2018.
4.4 The United Kingdom and Bangladesh agreed to enhance cooperation and consultations in the UN, including Human Rights Council, and other multilateral fora.
4.5 Both countries welcomed their continuing close cooperation on the international climate change architecture and recognised each other’s significant contribution to the Paris Agreement of 2015. They agreed to continue working together towards the goal of reducing global carbon emissions and as appropriate mitigation and adaptation activity in Bangladesh.
4.6 The next Strategic Dialogue will be held in London in the first half of 2018.
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